It looks like the hurricane evacuation model and ROGOs will be ongoing issues into the new year

Monroe County Commissioner David Rice joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about what’s going on in the county.

When it comes to the possibility of a change in the hurricane evacuation model and ROGOs, the issue is still in review.

Rice said, “We really don’t have input from the state yet as to what the possible actions may be. We have a small amount of information that actually asks us how many ROGO permits, which are necessary to build residences, would we like to have? Well, that’s like walking into a large room and whispering a question in a void. There are so many issues related to that, that we’re really asking for more time, because initially, it seemed that they wanted that answer very quickly, and quickly in terms of the magnitude of the issue. So we’ve asked for more time and it looks like we’re probably going to get it to engage in a process to answer all of the related questions, and perhaps even a referendum to get input from the folks in the county. These are important questions. For one thing we need to know for how many years are we saying we need a certain number of ROGO permits? Initially, I don’t believe we even had that information. So it’s really too early to be definitive about much. We’re going to have to engage in a process. We have several options. We can, and there are certain groups of people in the Keys who say, building is over, we should finish. Therefore, it’s finished. There’s an argument for that. Traffic, things of that nature, other infrastructure limitations. You can make that argument. The downside with that option is that we have about 8,000 properties in Monroe County that have not been developed. They are owned by private individuals and since we do happen to live, just barely, but we do live in the United States of America, property values are protected by our form of government. So somehow, if we stopped development, we and I mean, the public would have to cough up an estimated billion to a billion and a half dollars and nobody knows what that number is, until after the lawsuits finish, of course, but we know it’s a huge amount of money that would forever change who could live in the Keys because of the potential taxing that would be necessary to compensate those owners for the property that they can’t use. So that’s the downside for that one. We’ve also got those folks, although I really haven’t run into any of them, but there’s somebody in every camp, who would say, let’s take those 8,000 permits and build out quickly. Well, that would overstretch our infrastructure, because we wouldn’t have time to fix the road, fix the water, fix the whatever. In addition to the fact that I firmly believe that if we did that we would crash the real estate market and hurt everybody because supply would be so enhanced. Somewhere in between those two options is probably where we’ll be going. If I had to guess, I would guess that we’ll choose an in between option, that doesn’t look a whole lot different than what we’ve done over the past several years, keeping slow growth, maybe even issuing fewer ROGO permits per year. That will hopefully keep us out of takings cases that generates that huge debt and develop very, very slowly over upcoming years. I expect we will be looking at something like that. Obviously I don’t know for sure what the future holds. But we’ll be working on it.”

Is the ultimate decision up to the state?

Rice said, “That is. Now they are giving us the opportunity to tell them what we would like. The future will tell us whether we get what we would like. I don’t know.”

If this is all dictated by the state, how does the county end up footing the bill in takings cases?

Rice explained, “Well, this gets a little complicated because the state is asking us okay, how many how many ROGO permits do you want? There’s one school of thought that says if we don’t take them all, in the future when taking cases start coming down the pike, the state can and likely will say, well, we offered you a way out of this and you didn’t take it. So you’re on your own. Now, historically, we have had several takings cases in Monroe County over the last 20 years or so. We’ve lost millions of dollars on a relatively few cases because those are not hard cases to make sometimes. The state has stood beside us and paid 50 percent of the amounts are awarded on those cases. We would like to believe that they’ve been a partner since the very beginning of slow growth in Monroe County, that they would be there when the bills come in for what we’ve done. Because we have instituted slow growth, and it has affected how rapidly people can add homes. We know those stories, it sometimes takes years to get a permit. What we’ve done is built up a huge debt there, that some way or another, either people are going to develop, or we’re going to have to buy those properties one way or the other, whether it’s takings case or a direct offer. We’ve been buying lots of property in the county from willing sellers. We’ve made remarkable strides in that. But it’s still just a drop in the bucket.”

The possibility of making Monroe County a charter government could be moving toward a resolution.

Rice said, “The plans there remain unchanged. We’re still drafting language that would describe what we would want to have that charter government look like. That should be available to us fairly quickly to be shared with the public because the issue of charter government is not one that a thoughtful person can easily say for or against. It really is just a description of what you want for a charter government, that’s the important part. So until our legal department finishes drafting that language, personally, I couldn’t be for it, or I couldn’t be against it, because I don’t know what the final analysis will look like. What I hear so far I like. We’re building and lots of safeguards for other governments, the cities so that they don’t have to worry about losing any power to county government. It’s being done in a very thoughtful way. I’m hopeful that we can come out with a very well thought issue. Of course, one of the main objectives of this is to have our visitors able to help us pay for the costs of anything related to transportation. This money can only be used for transportation related issues. Of course, that does include sea level rise. One of the things we’re really being hit with in the communities that are experiencing very severe sea level rise is any solution is horrendously expensive and probably temporary in some cases. We have a few communities like a couple in the Upper Keys that were built in very low lying areas, less than a foot above the high tide. They have problems.”